The Light Rail Cost and Performance Commitment Revisited
by Emory Bundy
As Aaron Ostrom wrote in 2000:
"I [Aaron Ostrom] and many other light rail supporters draw a sharp line here. If Sound Transit is not able to build the line that voters approved without raising taxes they should stop the project. I have heard the Chair of the Sound Transit Board [Dave Earling] and several other board members, including Ron Sims, pledge to do just that. Light rail opponents claim that once the Federal Funding Agreement is signed, we won't be able to stop no matter what the overruns. But the facts are that the Federal Funding Agreement will not be approved and signed until the tunnel contract is approved and signed.
"As the papers have reported, Sound Transit's budget and finance plan appear to contain enough contingencies to more than handle such cost increases without raising taxes. That's good news. It is what they have promised us all along. If they are not able to negotiate a tunnel contract that keeps that promise, Emory and I will be singing the same tune. I do not expect that to be the case however."
In response to Ostrom's words from 2000, let me say without qualification, with no fear of contradiction, that Sound Transit is not able to build the Central Link light rail line that voters approved without raising taxes, and raising taxes a great deal. The fundamental reason is that the cost is considerably more than double the cost that Sound Transit represented to voters. Not only does the agency intend to raise taxes in order to complete Central Link light rail, it's already extended taxes, indefinitely--for its putative Ten Year Plan, the plan presented to voters--in order to raise more taxes by taxing longer, the functional equivalent. Is Aaron Ostrom therefore opposing the project? Not at all. It makes no difference to him how many billions of dollars the project is over-budget, how much taxes need to be raised, or how long citizens must pay. He's for it, without limit. As is Ron Sims, who's no more honorable in his commitments, or respectful of the public interest, and the truth, than Aaron Ostrom is.
Are there sufficient contingencies to "more than handle cost increases without raising taxes"? Of course not. That also is crystal clear. Why? Because Sound Transit so misrepresented the costs, and so under-budgeted its contingencies. Does that matter to Aaron Ostrom? No, it was necessary to misrepresent the project because, had the public known the true cost, benefits, and construction schedule, it would not have passed at the polls. Its polling told it that, in detail--so it crafted its proposal to fit its polls, rather than tell the truth to voters. Lying is the order of the day at Sound Transit, and it's tolerated by its close supporters.
Is there any truth in the statement, "the Federal Funding Agreement will not be approved and signed until the tunnel contract is approved and signed"? None. The opposite occurred.
Aaron said in his essay, "If they [Sound Transit] are not able to negotiate a tunnel contract that keeps that promise [to not raise taxes], Emory and I will be singing the same tune. I do not expect that to be the case however."
Well, Sound Transit didn't, and won't. Has Aaron Ostrom changed his tune?
Not at all. In his advocacy, rail is worth supporting no matter how enormous
the cost, no matter how modest the benefits, no matter how tardy its
implementation, no matter how grossly misrepresented, no matter how superior
other transit and transportation alternatives are. He made explicit commitments
in the paragraphs above, but he's not prepared to honor them.